Therese was given many advantages in life – the one she took most advantage of was her education. And this education led her to the church. There, Therese discovered early a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ…but not right away.
As a child – she was not exactly what we think of as “saintly”. In fact, there has been a lot written about her being high strung. Apparently she often had a clear idea of what she wanted, and threw a fit when she didn’t get it. She was smart – and loving – but also quite difficult.
Her church – and her family – were shocked as she began to morph into a grown, faithful person. And soon after, having experienced something special with Jesus – she took vows and became a nun. She entered the convent – desiring to be a saint. She wanted to be counted among the ranks of all our saints who have done wonderful and strange things.
Saints who have worked miracles, brought people back to life, changed hearts, changed minds, fed the hungry, clothed the poor – even defeated dragons…you name it. She wanted to be one of them. Ambitious. But honest.
And when you read her writing – it almost seems like she thought it would be easy.
After six years of struggling to be perfect – to do everything right – to be seen as a saint…she changed her mind about whether such a thing was even possible.
She began to realize how small and insignificant her life was in the vast expanse of time and space – not in a bad way – but in comparison to the whole world, full of people around her.
She found she was unable to live completely into the love she so strongly believed in.
She found that no matter how hard she tried – she still got angry, was frustrated, and floundered in her own humanity.
Her diaries and notebooks at this time tell us something of her profound sadness at her own inability to conquer herself – in order to be like the saints of old.
Saints who make it look easy.
Who were filled with grace and love – and capable of miracles.
And so we remember her instead for writing about something she called, “the little way”:
"I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. [...] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less."
The little way.
The way by which she was, in fact, raised up to be a saint – by doing small, little, simple acts of kindness and mercy.
By understanding the specific role Jesus was asking her to play – however small it may have seemed to her, it did actually have grand repercussions.
This is what both Paul and Jesus are getting at today.
Both are talking about what we call the “reward of the righteous.”
Both are referring to a process of sanctification – by which we live into our salvation – into the love of God that already lives in us – by participating in a slow…little…process.
By practicing – showing even the smallest bit of kindness and mercy.
This cold cup of water that Jesus is talking about – may not seem like a grand gesture to the person making it.
But in fact, to the traveler – the stranger, the outcast, the poor – this gesture is grand, indeed.
Not only is it water – it’s cold.
And on this hot day, we can begin to glimpse the extra kindness of that gesture.
Paul’s letter to the Romans – a bit scathing today, perhaps – but its encouraging us to think along similar lines.
Today – he’s having to teach the Romans a bit of a lesson – to correct them.
First he taught them that we are saved by faith. By grace.
That through Christ – and our belief in Christ – we are saved. We need not do anything else to earn our salvation. In fact – we can’t do anything else – because we don’t deserve it…
We can’t buy it – or earn it – or do anything to merit it…
And yet – our salvation is freely given – out of God’s love for us.
And Paul – has explained this to the Romans. And they’ve understood.
They’ve understood so well, actually, that they don’t think they need to necessarily do anything to be Christians.
It seems they’ve let themselves off the hook.
Believing that they’re saved – no matter what they do. Free to return to living the lives they want to live – as long as they “believe” – in some…thoughtful…existential way.
This is not how Paul intended for this conversation to go.
His intention was not to preach that what we do doesn’t matter – or that God doesn’t expect things of us.
By no means.
What he’s really getting at – is that as people – as finite creatures – there are always needs we have to meet. Things we have to be a part of. And people who fall above us somewhere in the hierarchy.
And in all of these cases, Paul’s point is that we have a choice.
We can belong to those people – to those things of this world – giving our attention and allegiance to finite, imperfect things.
Or we can choose – in our actions – and our words – to belong to God.
To follow our own little way – and even in the smallest of actions – to give glory to God.
Paul wants them to live faithful lives.
And he promises them that there is a reward for doing so.
A theme that Jesus picks up in the Gospel.
Jewish law indicated that when a messenger – or a representative – of someone came to you – you had to receive them as if you were receiving the person who sent them.
So, if the king sent you a messenger, you would roll out the red carpet, set the table, and welcome the messenger as gladly and as kindly as you would the king himself.
As Jesus prepares to send his disciples out into the world – he wants to make it clear – to them, and to those to whom they go – that these disciples are his representatives.
That they are expected to go into the world and witness – and that they should be received just as anyone would receive Christ himself.
And so then by extension – how they would in fact receive God.
Jesus is both naming the disciples, here, as his representatives- and reminding them of their sacred charge.
He’s reminding them that the work that they’re sent to do – is in someone else’s name.
And in the name of someone of great power.
So they’re urged, I think, to take it seriously. And to understand that the expectations are very high.
But also – they’re reminded that they, too, are little ones.
Which in the Greek – probably means that they, too, had needs that needed to be met. They, too, are dependent on the mercy of God and the people around them.
The disciples were the church then – but you – you are the church now.
Like the disciples we are sent out, too – reminded of our sacred charge – of the one in who’s name we go –
And reminded of the fact that we, too, are little ones – dependent both on showing kindness and mercy – as much as we are dependent on receiving kindness and mercy.
So as Jesus often does – he’s arguing backwards, here.
Even a little cup of water -- from the bottom up.
While the responsibility and expectations are great – the reward is for even the smallest of things we can do.
A small thing to many of us.
But so important to the person who needs it.
While the expectations are great – Jesus isn’t saying that everything we do has to be huge – or grand – or even special.
But both Jesus – and Paul – and the example of Therese – offer us a course to follow that is simple…
That may seem like it lacks…luster and shine…
But in fact – it is the road of sanctification.
The road that turns us toward God – and opens us up – wider and wider to receive and then return God’s love and grace.
With a Messiah who turns things on their heads – we find in the end, that this “little way” – is nothing other than the way of love and peace – the greatest way there ever could be, because it leads us to the most precious reward – through whoever it is in front of us – whichever disciple or prophet to whom we show kindness – straight through to the greatest reward – to Christ, himself.